Building an AR Experience: 8 UX Principles You Should Consider

As we figure out this AR thing (and, really, make it up as we go along,) a number of unexpected UX challenges begin to emerge. This includes lack of boundaries and unclear expectations with augmented reality apps and experiences starting to roll in. Our first impressions from early releases may dictate how we feel about AR as a platform.

What does this lack of traditionally defined boundaries mean for designing UX for AR? What does it even mean to design ‘good UX’ for AR? In order to be effective we must review UX principles that we already know work and make them useful for AR. There is a wide variety of new considerations that will require investigation beyond anything that we currently think of as 2D UX design.

AR and its applications are broad and still being defined, but for the purpose of this article I will be touching upon what AR means within the boundaries of screens found in consumer electronics — screens users already have in their possession and will be the most widely adopted vehicle for AR.

AR has tremendous potential and solving UX problems for the platform will help us realize its potential and grow its appeal. This is in no way a definitive list and I would like it to evolve as I learn, and as AR grows. I invite feedback from the UX and mixed reality communities to contribute and improve upon my findings.

If you are looking to get started into UX Design for AR, consider what you already know and apply it to your workflow.

1. Define the environment.

We are born into a 3D world, not a 2D one. Working in two dimensions is less natural, yet UX designers are used to designing with pencils, paper, and screens, all media that work in two dimensions.

Keep the environment familiar and intuitive. AR gives users options that traditional experiences cannot. A new axis is introduced to our digital experiences — we are integrating the physical world through device cameras. Digital and interactive overlay are an opportunity to open up a dimension where the boundaries may not be as clearly defined.

User test — it’s difficult to predict how users will act in different physical environments. Depending on where the user is interacting with an AR experience, the setting could have a number of obstacles such as walls, live objects, and moving parts.

2. Prioritize screen real estate.

With AR, it seems like the physical world is your limit, but the limit is actually your screen.

Users will not want a cluttered screen as their attention will be on the experience at hand. Consolidate and consider hiding information into a menu, which is also helpful to consider for the next principle.

3. Make onboarding simple.

Onboarding is a challenge even in 2D spaces, but onboarding for a 3D space, with a bigger learning curve here, is even more important. There are guidelines in place, but always strive to be better than the standards that are in place if it means more successful onboarding. Don’t be limited by convention over intuition, but on the other hand, don’t try to reinvent what works.

Users already know how to view a 3D environment through their devices: through the built-in camera. We can use this behavior to our advantage.

4. Keep it predictable.

AR blurs the line of physical and digital, but we continue to seek familiar gestures and interactions. Facial and object detection, gestures, and movements also present a different set of challenges.

Users understand gestures, symbols and actions like photo rotating and cropping on their devices, and it translates well into AR.

Ikea Place does this well — an opaque indicator points out the front and back of the furniture and the user is able to rotate and scale fairly intuitively.

5. Leave clues.

We look for clues and instruction in real life when we are navigating an experience. For example, when you ride the subway, you are looking for signs, maps, and locations to get you to your destination.

Leave clues to encourage interaction with the environment. Graphics and dynamic animation can be inserted as not only as a guide, but a part of the experience itself. It doesn’t always have to be text or instructions.

There are 2D UX solutions to integrate into the experience to help keep the experience familiar.

Elements such as tooltips, exit buttons, hamburger menus, etc. can help you figure out how to best leave, enter, re-enter, or continue using an experience.

6. Make the experience useful.

Ask yourself the following questions: What is your AR experience doing for the user? How are you enhancing their experience? Establish a need first.

As interaction with digital interfaces becomes more widespread, integrating AR experiences into current user behaviors will find a way into experiences with which users are familiar.

Amazon recently rolled out a (limited) AR shopping experience to help users visualize products in their living space.

These experiences bridge imagining and procuring physical objects into a middle ground of visualization.

7. Delight the user, but keep them grounded.

AR can give users a sense of thrill and enchantment — but we must sustain that feeling. Snapchat users are enamored by dog faces and flower crowns.

Snapchat keeps the experience fresh by cycling new filters and giving users a reason to return to the experience.

Users need to feel a connection or an advantage to integrate AR into their user behavior. If not, we run the risk of AR becoming a gimmick.

8. Design for a diverse set of users.

AR is for everyone.

Weigh accessibility versus aesthetics. Certain interfaces and designs run the risk of excluding users of different abilities.

Push boundaries in AR accessibility and adapt and improve upon it by considering guidelines in place for both screens and physical accessibility. Resources such as UsableNet and ADA Standards for Accessible Design can help you make those design decisions.